Carlton Stories - Camera
I wish I’d Had A Camera
Looking back over the many instances and random run ins I’ve had with some of my favorite recording artists, there are so many times in which I wish I had a camera or a phone with a camera.
Particularly on 57th st.
Walking West on 57th st and running into John and Yoko Ono. Yoko was literally wrapped around John as the two of them walked in lockstep and seemingly floated down the street. John was gracious enough to actually speak to me and ask me how I was.
Walking East on 57th st at 3am after leaving some club and running into Carole King on the South East corner. I inquired as to whether or not she was indeed Carole King only to have her smile and say, “…..Sssshhhhhhhh!...”. I said,”….Sssshhhhhhhhh. for what? There’s no one out here. Matter of fact what are YOU doing out here all by your lonesome?!...”. She smiled again and told me that she was waiting for a friend. I told her to be careful as it was quite late and I bid her adieu.
Leaving music for a minute and entering the world of politics, I was once again walking West on 57th when I saw off in the distance a very curvy white girl approaching me. As I began to prepare my smooth pick up lines (LOL!) she got closer and I realized this “curvy white girl” was none other than Monica Lewinsky – she of the infamous Bill Clinton scandal. I was pleasantly surprised by how curvaceous she was but I was nowhere bear as surprised as when I looked up and saw a bus heading eastward on 57th st. The destination listed on the front of the bus?
I instinctively knew that this was a one in a million moment that was probably never going to happen again.
So getting back to music, it’s 1977 and James Brown is appearing at the Apollo theatre in Harlem. The downward spiral of his hit making years had begun. As a creative force he was spent having seemingly run out of ideas. His last two hit records had been in 1976. “Get Up Offa That Thing” and “Body Heat” respectively. There wouldn’t be another hit record until 1985’s very UNfunky, “Living In America”. Suffice to say the shows themselves also suffered due to key band members (Maceo parker, Fred Wesley, John “Jabo” Starks, etc. ) having departed. But nonetheless he was still Jaaaaaaaaames Broooown and when he came to town you went to see him because you knew at some point a party was going to break out and you would lose yourself in the funk.
I’m standing at the stairway leading to the second balcony in the Apollo when all of a sudden who should enter the theatre but the legendary Joni Mitchell.
At the time she has an album out entitled, “Don Juans Magic Daughter”. I actually greet her as such and she looks up surprised at having been recognized and having her latest LP name checked.
She was kind and gracious, greeted me warmly and went on into the show as did I. James Brown was at is most James Browniest and we all went home soul satisfied.
Fast forward to five years later and I’m leaving the Palladium on 14th st. between Irving Plaza and 3rd avenue. I’ve seen everyone at this venue from Prince, Funkadelic, and James Brown to Blondie, Al Stewart, and Al Dimeola. As I’m exiting the venue who is slowly ambling East on 14th st at 2am but Joni Mitchell. By herself!
I sidle up next to her and politely make small talk which she engages me in without a care in the world. As we head towards third avenue I remind her that I saw her when she attended James Browns performance at the Apollo back in 1977. She throws her head back and laughs as she regales me with her memory from that night.
She tells me that during intermission she went into the bathroom to freshen up. After she’d taken care of business and was standing at the sink washing her hands she noticed a group of tough looking Black girls standing by the doorway eyeing her up and down and murmuring. She of course was somewhat alarmed, especially since they stood between her and the door.
This little energy exchange seemingly went on forever although in truth it probably lasted no more than a minute for so.
Joni said she prepared herself for the worst, the ringleader of the girls comes over to her, hand on her hip, looks her up and down and says,
“….you Joni Mitchell right? My mother plays your records all the time!...”
So many takeaway lessons from this with the main ones being never judge a book by it’s cover and music being such a unifying, healing force all over the world.
I wish I’d had a camera that night. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to walk with Joni Mitchell at 2 am again!
LONG LIVE SOUL MUSIC
- Carlton Jumel Smith 2021